Contained optimism layered with an air of apprehension is the prevalent emotion pertaining to matters education at this time as schools at both primary and secondary levels prepare for an imminent return to a classroom setting, nigh on six months from their closure in mid-March as the COVID-19 pandemic detrimentally impacted upon the customary teaching routine.
As schools continue to prepare and equip their relevant premises prior to their reopening, pupils and students will return to an education environment vastly different to the one which they departed with the implementation of health and safety measures as requested by the Government having a noticeable impact upon the manner in which they receive their teaching and how they interact with their peers.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Oliver Keating, Principal, Tubberclair National School, spoke of the need to return a semblance of normality to the lives of pupils who have been removed from their regular education environment for close to a six month period.
“Our school closed on Thursday, March 12. Although initially for a two week period, as time elapsed there was a pervading feeling that we would not return prior to the summer holidays. As teachers, to be unable to complete the academic year was a feeling of vast disappointment,” Oliver asserted.
With 275 pupils due to return to Tubberclair NS, Oliver is understandably apprehensive pertaining to the start of the forthcoming academic year, but in unison with his peers, he has been readily preparing the school in the best manner possible, the health and safety of all pupils ultimately paramount.
“Truthfully, I am looking forward to a return to the classroom setting. Obviously, with the virus still prevalent in the community there are apprehensive concerns for teachers, pupils and parents, but within the school we will strive to strike a balance to encompass health and safety measures and normality as we educate,” Oliver continued.
The four core health and safety measures imparted by the Government to schools as a return to an education environment pertain to hand hygiene, coughing etiquette, the daily cleaning process and social distancing.
Advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC ) notes that there is no requirement for social distancing for pupils up to and including second class, but a minimum one metre distance should apply for older students.
“We have received guidance from the Government and in this regard, have been preparing and equipping the school as necessary prior to the pupils return. Relevant social distancing measures have been implemented within each classroom, breaks will be staggered for pupils, while our school cleaning schedule rota has been much increased.
“The process will require change as we proceed but this is a wholly new environment in which we are now teaching our pupils and we will have to adjust accordingly,” Oliver added.
The return to an education environment with which they are most comfortable awaits the teaching cohort in Tubberclair NS with time spent tutoring online now a memory.
“I have been in regular contact with my colleagues who are of a similar belief that a return to the classroom environment is most important now following our absence from the face to face teaching environment.
“That air of apprehension is certain to linger for a period of time but as the weeks progress, hopefully without incident, a sense of normality might pervade as concerns begin to ease.
“I must assure parents that our key objective as we return to school is the health and safety of all our pupils, but we have to educate within an environment that bears normality.
“The creation of such an environment will naturally develop and enhance the learning capabilities of all pupils and this must be our aim as we approach this academic year,” Oliver concluded.
Town Mayor affords due education gratitude
Meanwhile, Athlone Town Mayor, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, has paid tribute to the teachers and school management bodies within the Athlone-Moate Municipal District with regard to the preparatory work which has taken place enabling pupils and students to return to a safe education environment.
“As our children return to school in the coming days I would like to pay tribute to all the teachers and those in school management across our network of schools in this District for the work they have been doing behind the scenes, preparing for each of their respective reopenings.
“I have witnessed the sterling work being carried out behind the scenes. I have met with many principals and teachers at their schools in recent days and weeks and would like to personally acknowledge the huge effort being made by everyone to get the buildings ready.
“It is essential that if we are to have a functioning economy and society, we need our schools back in full operation and we all hope that this will happen. While at the same time parents must be satisfied that the school their child is going to has made all reasonable effort to make it as safe as possible.
“I have no doubt our schools will be in great shape to welcome back all pupils and students and, I would like to wish the children, teachers and school management the very best as they return to their education environment,” Cllr. O’Rourke emphasised.